PULLING NIGERIA OUT OF POVERTY: LESSONS FROM FORBES LIST OF RICHEST AFRICANS

 In 2014 Nigeria overtook South Africa on the list of the 50 Wealthiest People in Africa. That was exciting to me and I believe it should be to many lovers of Nigeria. On that list, there were 13 Nigerians against 11 South Africans, the rest being people from other African Countries, mainly Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and Tanzania. 2014 was the same year that Nigeria's GDP was REBASED, bringing it to be the biggest Economy in Africa. Some People challenged this rebasing and said it was stage managed. Perhaps they suspected that the Government in power did it to boost its performance. But Forbes is an internationally recognized and independent rating organization. In the same 2014, they found that Nigeria had the highest number of Wealthy People on their list. And this had nothing to do with rebasing the economy. The criteria for calculating the net worth of these rich Nigerians did not include the size of the economy. It was a measure of the wealth created by these individuals through appropriate market determined pricing that did not involve any Nigerian Government Agency including the National Bureau for Statistics( NBS)
   The truth is that Forbes list only validated the truth that Nigeria's Economy had grown astronomically making it the biggest Economy in Africa, just as a Nigerian became the richest Man in Africa. We can not and must stop guarelling with facts. Nigeria's Economy has grown over the years to become the biggest in Africa. If it is not a big deal, then tell me what is. It is exciting for me to know that Nigeria maintained its dominance of the Forbes List of the 50 richest Africans in 2015, despite the drastic fall in oil price, the reduction in National Income and the consequent devaluation of our local currency. We still had 13 people on the list, with Aliko Dangote retaining the position of the richest African, though his net worth declined from $ 21.6 Billion to $15.7Billion.
 The second lesson derivable from this list, is the source of the wealth of these individuals. As a country that has long been dependent on oil as main source of National income and foreign exchange, one would have thought that the richest Man in Nigeria would have made his wealth from oil. But surprisingly it is not so. Aliko Dangote has made his wealth from aggressive investment in Manufacturing Cement, Flour and Sugar. He started from trading and transited to Manufacturing. Today, he has disproved the commonly held view that manufacturing is no go area in Nigeria. He did not even make his money from the other glamorous businesses of Banking and Telecommunication. The lesson is that Money can be made in Nigeria from many sources, if only we can imbibe the Dangote 'gene'. Abdulsamad Rabiu of BUA, Tunde Folawiyo of the Folawiyo Group, and Oba Otudeko of the Honeywell group are others on the list who made their money from value addition activities in Manufacturing, Agriculture, Engineering and Real Estate.
   Of course our oil moguls( upstream and down stream) were prominent on the list. And these included the Amazon, Folurunsho Alakija, TY Danjuma, Mohammed Nadimi, and Femi Otedola. Mike Adenuga bestrode the oil and Telecoms sectors while Hakeem Bello Osagie bestrode the Telecoms and Banking sector. Tony Elumelu and Jim Ovia can be said to have created most of their wealth from the Finance Sector. I am certain that there are many other wealthy Nigerians who ought to be on this list but who were missed out by the Forbes radar, either because of the kind of businesses they are involved in or because of the way they manage their wealth. Those whose businesses are not floated on the stock exchange or who do not produce audited accounts, may have net worths  in excess of 510 million dollars, which should have gotten  them on the list. There are many silent billionaires, some even in the informal sector. Whether, we like it not, these are evidences of a Bouyant economy. You do not create billionaires in a dead economy.
  Thirdly, is the question of whether the overall economy benefits from these wealthy men. While some people may be quick to say no for whatever reasons, I hasten to say bold YES. All these billionaires have chains of businesses that are creating employment for many Nigerians, thereby helping to reduce unemployment and Poverty. They are paying heavy taxes which contribute to the revenues of our governments( Federal, State and Local Government). Most of them, have set up foundations through which they are supporting social service delivery to many disadvantaged Nigerians and helping to achieve redistribution of wealth, and further reducing poverty. The actives of TY Danjuma Foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Dangote Foundation for example are widely known. There are many others, some operating below the radar. Those who unduly crticise these Rich Nigerians, whose numbers are increasing every year, should tell me what they have lost or what the Nation has lost by their emergence. Yes, our operating environment, needs to be more competitive, but any environment that is enlarging the 'trybe' of the rich and wealthy, can not be that bad!
   Having said so, I am of the firm belief that, the Nation can benefit a lot more from our Rich and Wealthy. The Model I saw at the Global Business Roundtable Conference in South Africa recently can help pull more Nigerians out of poverty.  The rich and wealthy should undertake the mentoring of young and struggling businessmen and Women. With their experience they can help many to acquire their 'genes'and strive to success.Every successful business will employ more people, create more wealth and help to grow the Economy. The Rich and Wealthy should not only give cash gifts or do charitable works, they should allow many more people participate in the ownership of their businesses through free share offerings or discounted share pricing for the poor. If these rich and wealthy were to offer 10% of the shares of their various companies at discounted prices or through a deferred payment scheme to the poor( where payment for the shares will be from future dividends), the impact will be monumental. Thousands, if not millions of Nigerians would be pulled out from poverty for ever, without dampening in any significant way the wealth of the current Rich.
  I believe that those who have achieved tremendous successes should deliberately help others to come out of poverty. I think Tony Elumelu and a few others are working along this line of empowering many Nigerians. It is not only an act that will make God happy, but an act that will help to make Nigeria a safer place to live and enjoy the tremendous blessings of God. Perhaps it will help make many more Nigerians join me in praying that more Nigerians will enter the Forbes List- both global and African.
   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

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